Only child makes depressing Christmas visit to parents. How can I prevent this from happening again?
Apologies for length: trying to pre-empt any kneejerk 'just suck it up' responses (which may be appropriate, but hear me out first).
Mid-twenties, only child, been living a 10-hour plane ride from home for a few years now, fairly happy and optimistic about my future here despite present unemployment while I'm starting out in a new career (going back home--ever--is simply not on the table and never will be). Parents both just hit 60, both recently retired, live very quiet lives save for fixing up their boat to sail the world in their old age. They're super supportive of my life out here; it was even their idea. 'Home' is a village in rural England, very quiet, very boring, local highlight of the week is Friday night down the pub.
Long story short, I'm infinitely better off out of there, but since I don't really have close friends let alone anything approaching a surrogate family here, I've always opted to go home for Christmas. Parents seem very happy to have me (will even pay for flights), so off I go. It's boring--unless I cheerlead alternative activities, the whole two weeks would slide by in TV-watching and trips to Tesco--but I get through it and it is the only time we see each other in person. The past couple of times we've even arranged to spend a few days in London playing tourists. Highlight of the whole visit for me. We generally have a great time there. I think getting away from the inertia and the same old environment has a lot to do with it. So, reasonably successful visits by and large.
Until last year. Flights booked, everything proceeding as normal. Then, shortly before leaving, I'm seized with anxiety and I can't place the cause. I get barely any sleep the night before. My appetite goes completely. So I start almost 24 full hours of travel on an empty stomach and next to no sleep. Since I can be an anxious person and I can never seem to catch a wink of sleep on planes, you can imagine how the rest goes. By the time I get off the train at the other end, I'm mentally and physically on a different planet. A very nauseated, strung out planet. Parents, however, are excited to see me, and since they haven't eaten yet, insist we go straight on for dinner at a restaurant, which I spend picking at a bread roll and responding in monosyllables because I don't know whether I'm going to vomit or pass out (in the end, I did neither, but it was a close thing). This obviously disappoints them.
So that's how it started. It didn't get much better. I just couldn't catch up on sleep, which continued to mess up my mood and my appetite. I spent the whole two weeks in some sort of anxious, resentful half-life. I didn't have the energy to cheerlead the fun things, so almost every day was spent doing bugger all, which I resented. My conversation was pretty crappy: I didn't have the mental energy to recount all the stories they'd already heard on Skype. I would occasionally feel quite ill, which made me anxious about going out and which nixed the meet-up I was planning with a couple of old schoolfriends. So I resented that too.
It got so bad I behaved poorly while out to dinner one evening. Just couldn't suppress my frustration and fatigue at the humdrum environment and the same humdrum conversation repeated ad nauseam. My dad snapped at me for not making an effort--rightly so, I realize. Later that night, I overheard him expressing to my mother his disappointment in my behaviour and that I needed to 'grow up'. I'm a grown woman, and my dad's respect is still one of the most important things in my life, so it was utterly mortifying. I spent the rest of the night sobbing and in the morning made a tearful apology to both of them. They acknowledged how I'd been feeling, but, heart of hearts, I think they've always seen me as over-anxious and tend to be a little dismissive (not in an unkind way) of my 'issues'. As though if I made an effort, none of it would be a problem.
Thankfully, it ended on a positive. We spent a couple of days in London again and had a good time. My appetite even began to come back a little. Then it was time to fly back, and the whole godforsaken experience began again. No sleep, no food. Only this time round it was twice as bad because now I hadn't eaten or slept properly for two weeks. The less said about that return flight the better--suffice to say I was on the verge of what I'm fairly certain was a panic attack mid-flight and I have never had one before. I made it through, but I had to sit in the arrivals' lounge for over an hour sipping weak tea to gather the physical strength to make it home. It took a long time to get back to normal.
Christmas 2012 is on the horizon. I will almost certainly be going home. How can I prevent this sorry experience from happening again? I don't especially enjoy regressing to my teenage years, and it's not respectful to my parents either. We only see each other in the flesh once a year and I don't want to spoil it again. I didn't enjoy the travel endurance test either. Is this just the world's worst jetlag? Is it subconscious anxiety about home and parents?
As for potential solutions, I have some over-the-counter sleeping tablets from the pharmacist which I have no experience with but am prepared to use if necessary. Parents coming here--which would be ideal--is not on the cards on account of expense. NOT going home for Christmas is not really an attractive option either: quite apart from the important face-time with family, I'm a fairly solitary person and as I've said, there's no one here I would like to/can spend it with. Abbreviating the visit is not really cost-effective: flights are super expensive. I mentioned the old school friends; we have little in common anymore and I'm struggling with anxiety over making social plans. Happy to have a pint with them and catch up but that's about it.